Travels with Dad

From my first memory, dad was a strong, virile and handsome man. He had married my mother shortly after World War 2. They both served in the war with my mother a WAC in Great Britain and my dad a jaunty sailor in the Canadian Navy. He served on a minesweeper during the war. My mother was a few years older, but they had a good life together and provided a stable upbringing for my sister and I. The story of their meeting involved my dashing dad and beautiful mom, newly back from war. My dad was still wearing his sailor uniform, even though he had received his honourable discharge….maybe to pick up girls. They were taking a bus from Winnipeg to Kenora, Ontario, where my dad was raised and my mother’s sister was living. He saw a cute French girl and managed to snag a seat next to her. A lengthy discussion ensued during their hours between Winnipeg and Kenora. Agreeing to meet again, a couple of days hence, they parted ways. The appointed time, however, saw neither of them attend. I guess if one didn’t show, the other would never admit it. Only the jilted one will ever know. It seems, however, they were destined to meet again, as my mother’s sister was dating, and eventually married, a school friend of my dad’s. I’m not sure if they reunited at the wedding but they eventually connected, and the rest is history.

My dad, although younger than my mother, has a strong personality and always seemed to be the one guiding their ship, a feat he accomplished very well. Mom was a kind and gentle person and, I think, very happy with her role as wife and mother. Many times she could be heard humming a tune while doing housework or cooking. I only recall her becoming angry on one occasion when I was the well-deserved recipient of her wrath. She would generally leave the big guns of discipline for my dad when he returned from work.

My dad was a very hard worker and an electrician in Penticton for several years after their marriage. He then acquired a much better paying job as an above-ground electrician in the mine in Kimberley, B.C. where I was born. I always remember him having at least two jobs. He built a house for a few hundred dollars while working in the mine but only stayed a few years. Again, as the story goes, my mother was away visiting relatives in Saskatchewan when she received a call from my dad that she had better return, as he had quit his job, sold the house, joined the Canadian Armed Forces, and they were moving to Quebec. Apparently, the mine workers had gone on strike and my dad wasn’t going to sit around with nothing to do and no income.

The next few years are a bit fuzzy for me as I was sub-2 years of age. I understand, we moved to Quebec and Ontario for my dad’s training in the armed forces but eventually ended up in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba where my sister was born some three years after me. My dad remained with the Armed Forces until retiring. He had a few more careers thereafter and always provided well for his family.

I was raised in Courtenay, near Comox on Vancouver Island, during my high school years and considered this community my home for many years. My parents remained there with my mother passing away from cancer in 2002 at 81 years of age. She had, apparently, contracted asbestos poisoning from working in a Great Britain laundry plant during the war. She was sick for several months while her body wasted away and my dad cared for her in their home.

A third family story, that I find amazing, is that at the moment of my mother’s passing, a very unfamiliar and colourful-looking bird began flitting around the house. She died in the middle of the night and no bird had ever been known to fly in this house. The bird was eventually shooed out with a broom and never seen again. My father is not one to believe in supernatural events but I believe he is fairly convinced this bird represented my mother’s soul or spirit leaving her body. The nurse and a family friend in attendance were also quite convinced of this.

My dad was a widower at 77 years of age. I am sure he loved my mother very much and missed her deeply but, not being the sort of person to sit around and mourn, he and I began spending considerably more time together. I was recently divorced and shared custody of my 8-year-old son. Consequently three generations of Allens set out to explore the world

Our first trip together was to Cuba, as I did not have my son for the Christmas holidays and neither of us had any reason to remain in the frigid north. I was happy to spent two weeks bunking down in a nice 4-star resort on a spit called Veradero on Cuba’s northern most coastline. At that time my dad was fairly fit and loved to ride bicycles. We would bike into the neighbouring town daily, have a coffee in the square and travel back. We were also just beginning to learn tennis. With two rather primitive tennis courts on the resort property, we would spend our mornings trying to get those obstinate yellow balls to cooperate. We had a fun couple of weeks and enjoyed the sun, heat, tennis, cycling, swimming, cervesas, and food.

During this trip we rented a car, as we are independent sorts, and took a little drive into Havana about 150 kilometers away. Cuba is very poor and we were completely unfamiliar with driving protocols of this land. I recall learning rather quickly that when a vehicle breaks down in Cuba, they don’t bother pulling off the road. The road from Veradero to Havana is made of cement, to endure the test of time I guess, and was arrow straight, with very little traffic. On one occasion I noticed a vehicle that we seemed to be overtaking rather quickly, when suddenly it was immediately in front of us and I had to swerve to avoid a collision. It seems the driver had a flat tire and was fixing it in the middle of the road.

After dodging a few similar vehicles, we eventually found Havanna but discovered a huge city of over 2 million people. The roads were entirely clogged with traffic and we had no idea where we were going. Roundabouts are about 10 rows deep. White knuckled, we eventually found the port and city centre but I was, by that time, so frazzled by the traffic that we parked on a side street and were ready to abandon the vehicle. We eventually did board our little car and returned uneventfully to Veradero.

The practice of renting some sort of vehicle and me driving in foreign lands turned out to be a standard protocol for all of our trips. I have driven throughout many areas of Mexico, Thailand, Australia, Great Britian, much of Europe, and even such interesting countries as Morocco and Turkey. I left the driving to others in Brazil and Cambodia. On one occasion my dad and I rented a scooter and we drove all over southern Mexico for a couple days while he clung to my back.

My dad is very gregarious, finds it easy to make conversation with anyone, and has no lack of self-confidence. He also has boundless energy. It was always George who knew everyone in each resort, established many friends, and arranged tennis matches. He was never concerned if he wasn’t quite as good at tennis as some of the other players and would book matches, expecting me to hold up the end that he was no longer capable of holding. We had some successes but also some abysmal failures.

He would have me up at 7 AM every day, down for breakfast and on the tennis court by 8 AM. This would be after a night of dancing and enjoying a few glasses of wine. I was usually the one who wanted to find our room by 8 PM when he was just beginning to gain energy. In later years he had problems with diabetes but it never slowed him down. I did question his habit of washing his numerous pills down with white wine, even in his 90s.

Dad has always been a wonderful dancer and, again, showing no semblance of shyness, would be on the dance floor from first song to last with anyone who would dance with him. He was seldom turned down. I think he learned to dance as a teen when he found it an easy way to meet women. My mom was also an excellent dancer and they could be seen gliding across the dance floor, moving with the music and having no difficulty with almost any type of music. Spanish music was one of their favourite genres, therefore they returned to Mexico numerous times and he continued to go back after my mother’s death.

Our most memorable trip was two weeks with the three amigos: dad, 8-year-old Linden (my son), and myself, when we travelled to Punta Da Mita, Mexico. We stayed in a fairly secluded all-inclusive resort call Club Viva. The resort had a noticeably Mexican flair with tiles throughout and cement walls painted a deep orange color. Linden was taking a week away from school so had to complete his homework every day. He was very diligent and could be seen working on his books in shorts and red singed skin from too much time in the sun. Linden loved the freedom of the resort. He could approach any one of the half dozen outdoor restaurants and order whatever met his fancy. Dad could be seen approaching these same restaurants for some afternoon libations.

Club Viva’s beach was a couple hundred feet below the resort. It was a private beach with rock walls separating us from the rest of the world. Therefore we would venture down to the beach during most afternoons and spend our time reading or swimming. Snorkelling gear was provided by the resort so Linden and I frequently spent time splashing along the shoreline gawking at the local sea life. On one occasion I was following Linden along the shore snorkelling, when we ran into a school of three-foot-long, and very menacing-looking, barracudas. Linden actually outswam me to the beach and didn’t venture into the water for several days.

Linden would get bored with sitting on the beach while dad and I grew tubbier and more tanned than toned. Linden would wander around the resort getting plates of Mexican chips and salsa or he could be seen trapping geckos in plastic beer glasses. On one occasion he, however, mistook a two-foot-long iguana for an oversized gecko. The iguana was lounging in the sun by the adult pool. Linden thought he could capture it but when he wrapped his fingers around the beast, it released an acid-like material and burned his hands. The iguana went flying and landed in the adult-only pool. The dozen or so bathers who were formerly enjoying a placid afternoon could be heard screaming while dashing for safer environs.

Dad had a deep love for Linden. In his mind, Linden was the perfect child and could do no wrong. He was pretty well right. You could visibly see his heart swell with pride when he talked about Linden or spent time with him. When Linden died at 11 years of age my dad was heartbroken. Linden was his legacy. Ten years after Linden’s death my dad’s voice still cracks when he talks about Linden. The three of us did manage to go on several trips together including Club Viva, Honolulu, Hawaii, and Nuevo Vallarta, Mexico.

After my mom died, then Linden, dad entered a relationship with a woman near his age. This wasn’t a perfect relationship but this lady had a beautiful 80-acre farm in which dad spent several summers haying and enjoying the rigours of farming. He drove the tractors and fixed the equipment while she, as was her way, mostly talked to visitors. I think dad enjoyed the farm more than his friend, but she had many friends, was a wonderful dancer, a good cook, and travelled with dad for several years to Mexico and Hawaii.

We, thereafter, met at a few places with our respective partners but didn’t go on a trip alone together until 2016, shortly after dad’s 91st birthday. My wife was laid up with a tumor in her leg and dad’s partner no longer wished to travel. Consequently we set out for Mexico one more time….just two single guys enjoying the ambiance of our southern neighbour.

We decided to visit Mexico in an area neither of us had ever explored before. Since I am the computer guy, I was assigned the task of finding a destination, within a few well-defined parameters laid down by my dad. It had to be: all-inclusive, hot, have a beach, good wine, and tennis courts. I opened my trusty Mac and scoured Mexico for deals and obscure little haunts that were new to both of us. For some reason neither of us had ever been to Baja California even though this area is possibly Mexico’s closest resort area to Canada. The Baja is a very large spit that descends from Southern California and is mostly separated from the rest of Mexico by the Gulf of California. There are two Mexican states on the Baja, of which one is called Baja California and the other Baja California Sur. I had always heard of the Baja and even visited the northern end of the peninsula as a young man but had never ventured more than a few hundred kilometers south of the California border. The peninsula actually extends about 1,200 kilometers down the coast of Mexico.

After a little research, I found a nice resort area at the very tip of the Baja called Cabo. I had heard of Cabo San Lucas as many people travel from Canada to this resort area. After a little more research I learned that the community of Cabo San Lucas is the busy touristy/party area where many people go to get pickled for a few winter weeks. As I am not one that enjoys busy, party people or preserves, I looked at a little town about 30 kilometers east of Cabo  called San Pedro del Cabo. This is also a beach area but not nearly as developed as Cabo San Lucas. I prefer to live in the communities of each country I visit while soaking in the local culture but, unfortunately, my dad likes to be waited on hand and foot. I acquiesced as, at 91 years of age, I guess a little accommodation for his needs and desires is appropriate.

Thus, after scouring numerous websites, Google Earthing the whole area and picking out my running routes, I found a resort at the very end of the beach that had two rather inviting tennis courts at a reasonable price, and a promise that all of our earthly desires would be satisfied. I had found our Mexican home away from home.

In late November we met in Vancouver, had a nice dinner at a local Irish pub, then flew off for our most recent adventure. We arrived to find everything much as described on the various websites, and by 4:00 PM we could be seen sipping Margaritas in front of our suite on a very nice beach while playing a lively game of crib. The Allens had arrived.

So, what does one do with a modestly mobile 91-year-old with a pocket full of pills who doesn’t wish to venture any great distance from his source of sustenance or the facilities? On our previous trips we usually enjoyed the obligatory breakfast by about 7:00 AM then were seen bashing tennis balls back and forth by 8:00AM. So that is what we did in Cabo. Dad wanted to get a start on his tennis game for the upcoming season.

Unfortunately, he did not seem his usual feisty self. We were both initially a little surprised at his lack of mobility. I pretty much had to put the ball within two feet of his outstretched arms. On a windy outdoor court, at plus 30C under a blistering sun, this was not always an easy accomplishment. We both persevered and did manage to play tennis most mornings. I, however, discovered a group of Mexicans who met daily at about 7:30 AM and played for about 90 minutes under the tutelage of a Mexican instructor. I soon found that none of them spoke English and my Spanish is mostly limited to ordering beer and asking for the bill….”por favor”.

One day when my dad wasn’t feeling up to tennis I ventured onto the courts about 8:00 AM and tried to invite myself into their little group. With racquet in hand and a Canadian smile on my face, I managed to convey my desire to play some tennis. Being the usual friendly Mexicans that I have known, they made a place for me and had me join in a game of “Libre”. I had never heard of such a game and since none of us could converse in a mutual language, I fumbled around a bit but soon figured out what they were doing. I won’t go into the intricacies of the game but essentially four players play with two tennis balls and hit the balls crosscourt. Once someone misses one of the balls, a point goes to the team that wins the next point on the remaining ball while shouting “Libre”….I think it means “free ball”. Several players can sub in and out making for a very boisterous competition.

At the end of an hour of Libre I was dripping in sweat and feeling like one of the guys. I left to find my dad at the breakfast bar. The next time I had a free morning I found the same hombres on the court and tried to play some more Libre. For about 20 minutes, I was ignored. Finally the instructor, possibly sensing my broken Canadian heart, came over to invite me to play. I did so, and eventually understood that he was expecting some sort of financial compensation for my participation. I guess I wasn’t one of the guys after all….just another gringo with big pockets. Miraculously, after slipping a couple of bills into his hand, I was suddenly one of the guys and welcomed back any time.

I managed to be an English speaking Mexican for a few days but mostly played “hit the spot” with dad. After tennis we would set up our little space around one of the many pools and promote cancer cells in our bodies while reading trashy novels. I could only do a couple hours of this pool-side torment before I would either head out for a run to explore the real Mexico, or just go for a long walk to the local Starbucks. Dad never managed to leave the resort compound for two weeks but, at 91, the years have given him a few good reasons to just relax.

I was always back by about 5:00 PM when it was time to have a nice cold cervesa and play a few games of crib. We managed three games of crib a day for two weeks with the looser at the end of the trip required to buy a last meal at that Irish Pub in Vancouver upon our return. We played 36 games of crib of which I won one extra game on the very last day. There is no holding down this 91-year-old…..or maybe I play like a 91-year-old.

After crib and cervesas, while still at the resort, we invariably headed down to one of the two restaurants. One was a beautiful ‘a la carte’ open-air pavilion on the beach, across from a spectacular sunset each evening. Patrons were required to choose an item from a menu and formally-dressed waiters took care of our every need. The other restaurant was attached to the main building, with a pool view, and involved a smorgasbord style presentation with different themes daily. Patrons could choose from many dishes with cooks grilling steaks, omelettes, crepes, or whatever else our touristy bellies might desire. My dad is a very finicky eater. It is pretty much meat and potatoes for him. Consequently, we ate at the smorgasbord every meal. This would allow him to pick and choose. Some nights he would return from a monstrous smorgasbord with lettuce and a banana. He didn’t like anything else. I’m not sure why he likes Mexico when he dislikes the food so much.

After two weeks of relative luxury and our salubrious decline, we returned to our respective lives with a hopeful thought that we may be able to repeat our adventure once again before too long. It is not many fathers and sons who have the inclination or ability to travel together well into a nonagenarian’s time of life. However, my dad continues to amaze, while still playing tennis, flying airplanes, and buying a new car past 90 years of age. We should all enjoy life as much as him.

More about Ron

I have worked in the Corrections system in British Columbia in jails, on the streets, and as a report writer for the Courts. I am mostly retired and enjoy, now, writing for pleasure. I hope the experiences I have had will entertain or enlighten others.

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